The Devil’s Drivers (TIFF 2021) Review - The Desert Chase With High Stakes (written by Anna Miller)
It could be said this documentary is reminiscent of the 1971 film, Two Lane Blacktop, but instead of Dennis Wilson and James Taylor in a ’55 Chevy, they are Palestinians Hamouda and Ismail in Subaru sedans on the brink of a breakdown. Their thoroughfare is not a paved road but rather, the Judean desert; their passengers are not the likes of Laurie Bird, but instead Palestinian workers being smuggled across borders so that they may make a living. And the stakes are very high.
The Devil’s Drivers is a documentary from directors Mohammed Abugeth of Palestine and Daniel Carsenty of Israel, who met each other at film school in Germany and came together to make this project come to life. Their film of which had its world premiere at TIFF 2021 and was filmed over the course of eight years in one of the most conflict-wrought locations in our modern world. It follows cousins Hamouda and Ismail from the town of Yatta closely as they risk their freedom every day serving as human smugglers; they transport Palestinian workers who don’t qualify for work permits over the border to Israel so that they may simply work. If caught by the IDF, they all run the risk of being arrested and the drivers risk having their vehicles confiscated. They even state that every morning that they leave to go drive, they are unsure if they will return to their families later that day, if at all.
The drivers communicate with their cellphones and radios, talking frantically while navigating and getting updates from a network of lookouts- both Palestinian and Israelis- posted atop hills along their route, alerting them of any military presence nearby. Ali, an older Palestinian man serves as ones of these scouts for the travelers, but not without repercussions. The IDF caught wind of his potential involvement, and due to this they bulldozed his home as well as his neighbors places and most of their village— caught on unstable cell phone footage, we watch the IDF flattening everything completely and reducing it to rubble as the wailing citizens beg and mourn. The military then leave, the job done, and the community is left with overwhelming sorrow, a “strongly worded” warning and no choice but to start over and rebuild.
Arrests do happen, vehicles are confiscated and sacrifices are made. Some of the drivers choose to continue their work despite the risks because they believe it is the right thing to do. And some drivers have no choice but to give up this lifestyle in order to secure a future with their family. Both arguably noble decisions made, especially considering the circumstances surrounding the men, their families and the passengers being smuggled.
The Devil’s Drivers easily evokes strong emotions from its audience, it is hard not to, given the context and upsetting nature of the documentary. It may bring up questions of morals, situational circumstances and ethics— is there a right and a wrong? Is it a case of perspective? This documentary starts a discussion and brings light to topics and events happening in our world that perhaps deserve a bit more attention.